My support cuts across APC, PDP members who still believe in zoning – APGA’s Ekpunobi

Comrade Emeka Ekpunobi is the candidate of the All Progressives Congress in the February 28, 2015 state House of Assembly election in Imo State. In this interview with newsmen, Ekpunobi, a journalist turned politician, spoke about his ambition and expectations. Excerpts:

Coming from journalism to politics. How has the experience been?
It has not been an easy journey so far. In all, it has been a wonderful experience joining active partisan politics, especially now that everybody is yearning for positive change. As a trained journalist, I joined politics to make a difference in the way and manner our so called professional politicians play the game. We want to add value to the system. And having practiced as a journalist for over 21 years and having reported the parliament and by extension Nigerian politics for over 17 years, I thought the best place to start would be to seek the mandate of the good people of Onuimo in Imo State to represent them in the state Assembly. I have been in the National Assembly since 1999 and I have served as the chairman of the Senate press corps for over six years. All these exposed me to the workings of the parliament. So you can see that I have the experience. I joined politics after a year-long sustained pressure from my people. My joining politics since 2013 was indeed a popular demand from both the young and old in my area who are genuinely convinced that I have the pedigree and character to give them quality representation in the state Assembly. I refused initially to join but I caved in after a visit of some traditional rulers and others leaders in my clan to me. I was also encouraged by the fact that it was the turn of my clan to produce the next member of the state House of Assembly. In fact, there was no dissenting voice to this in one of my meetings then with some traditional rulers in our local government. They were all in agreement that it was the turn of my area (UmuduruEgbe Aguru) to produce the next lawmaker for the local government. We have four clans that make up the local government and none had gone twice since we started the new dispensation in 1999. It was a strong agreement that even some people who wanted to truncate in the past failed.

What is the situation today?
Initially, we thought the incumbent would not put up a fight in 2015, having benefitted from this zoning arrangement. We made several consultations, even with him on the need to sustain this noble arrangement. The incumbent did not give us any reason then to suspect that he will go against our turn because my people were largely instrumental to him wining the election in 2011 when his then predecessor wanted to go for second term. It was the mass vote of my people who were then delegates at the Peoples Democratic Party primary that saw him through. In fact, it was the prompt intervention of one of the PDP chieftains from my clan, Chief Robert Asuzu, that changed the game. We thought the incumbent would reciprocate this gesture now that it is our turn. But we got it all wrong. Today, the same man we helped is the PDP candidate for the state Assembly election. Well, it is not over until it is over. All I know is that the peace we enjoy in Onuimo today is due to zoning and respect for it. We have a way of distributing some of these elective positions. It reduces tension because we know which clan takes what at every election year.

What happened at the primary?
Yes, I ran the primary with him with two others and I lost to him by only one vote in mysterious circumstances. Don’t forget that he was also a delegate for the primary and so voted for himself. He had 15 and I got 14. How the wining vote came is today history. The other two got three votes each during the election. But we all knew how the whole thing happened right there at the state party secretariat. The incumbent and his cohorts were not comfortable with such result because I was told that their plan was to beat me with not less than 20 votes. The way and manner the delegates were chosen in the state also did not help matters. Some of them who could not read and write played into the hands of an agent who was already planted by the money bag to do their bidding. The paid agent simply wrote the name of her pay master, folded the ballot paper and hand it over to the unsuspecting delegate who cannot read and write to just put into the ballot box. That
was how that game was played against us. But there is God. They have done their own, but the God of justice has the final say. We know that God will do it for us on Februray 28.

Today, you are the APGA candidate. What are your chances?
I have a very good chance to win the election on February 28 because APGA is on ground. The idea to cross over to APGA was not mine alone. It was a collective decision. My people so much believe that we can still remedy the sad situation using the another platform other than the PDP. We Have the sympathy of many people in the local government. We have the support of many All Progressives Congress and PDP members who still believe in zoning. Many of them insist on zoning. Some of them had boldly told the young man, the incumbent, to forget his second term bid because they believe that zoning is good for us and until they people decide otherwise. Interestingly, the next clan, which will take over from us, is already warming up for 2019. The incumbent knows that it is not going to be easy for him. We have the APC candidate also from the same clan with me. My APC opponent once told me that the result of the election was already written in his favour and that I was wasting my resources. He was also bold to tell me that I don’t have the resources to match him even when he conceded that I was more popular than him in our clan. But we are ready for them. We in APGA will do everything humanly possible to protect our votes. Bulk of our resources will go in for this. This is APGA election. People see APGA as Igbo party and we have no apologies. Our people are charged and ready to play the game according to the rules. APGA is not known for rigging and therefore we will do everything to resist any attempt by anybody to rig in the election. We have a viable and more popular senatorial candidate, Mazi Clement Owunna, who was recently adopted by the people of Okigwe and Onuimo. I will not be surprised if his opponents in APC and PDP decide to quit the race before the election because his support is so overwhelming. This is something one can see on ground. Owunna as industrialist and pharmacist has become a house hold name in the zone. We have a situation where even some APC and PDP chieftains who believe in merit drum support for him. The people of Okigwe have been yearning for a change and they have seen this positive change in Owunna. I am not saying this because we are from the same political party. But the people know who can deliver when they see one. You see we cannot move forward until we begin to recognise merit and good name in the choice of those who represent us. It does not matter which political party you belong to, what is important is to look out for somebody that has something to offer. Some of us came into politics to bring about positive change and some people who still wallow in corruption are not comfortable with this development. One of them told me in one of our usual night meetings that politics is not for people like us. And I asked him how long do we have to continue this way. It is time for a change.
What is the relationship among APGA, PDP and other parties in Imo State?
I can tell you that we don’t have any problem with any political party. APGA people are peace loving, We have special understanding with the PDP from the national to the state levels. Don’t forget that we in APGA were the first to adopt President Goodluck Jonathan as our candidate for the 2015 presidential election. We are working for Jonathan and we expect PDP to reciprocate, especially where they know they are weak like in Onuimo where I come from. It is not because APGA is too inferior to present a candidate, but because we believe in the transformation agenda of President Jonathan. Don’t forget that we now have candidates across many states today for the general election. APGA is coming up strong.The people of Onuimo want to use me to restore zoning, which the incumbent is desperate to destroy.

What are these changes you want to bring into the system?
First, I would insist on free, fair and credible election. I believe this is the first step to take if we must move away from the old order. You don’t expect somebody with questionable character to bring about positive change. And for you to represent a people, you have to be with the people. You cannot disconnect yourself from the people for so long and now come down from the blues to seek their mandate. You cannot represent a people you don’t attend their meetings, their markets, church and other events that bind them together. You represent a people you share in their plight, the pain and gain, if any, and our people know these things. I have been around with my people. I do visit home at least every month and other festive period before now. I started my primary school in Okwe Secondary School in Umuna and so I know that clans that make up our local government. I attend local events and I know almost every family in the local government and that is what is going for me. And representing a people is a two way thing: you listen to them and from such discussion you know exactly their problem and how to go about it on the floor of the House. But a situation where you do not even know the number of clans, communities in you local government and yet you what to represent them, such situation will be counter productive. And this is the situation in my area today. But good a thing the people of Umuduru Egba Aguru where I come from are becoming wises by the day and are ready to go for the best. We want to get it right this time around. Many of them have seen APGA as the messiah. Our emphasis will be job creation and quality education. We want to move away from the frenzy of the so-called free education in Imo State to quality education. We want a situation where our young graduates would be self employed at the end the day. We want to return power to the people. We want to carry people along, have respect for their feelings. I come from the most neglected area: no road, no regular electricity. We want to fix it this time around. We are out to show good example and we have the capacity to do so. I will be fair to the four clans. I would want them to see the difference at the end of the day. My clan was the last to see the bulldozer to work on their road after sustained protest by our youths and traditional rulers. The road project started in Umuna and ended in Okwe and never got to my area and yet we have somebody in the government. We sponsored the protest that drew the attention of government. We know those that misappropriated the over N960 million already paid out for the road project and we will expose them at the appropriate time. My people are angry. We have no programme with Governor Rochas Okorocha except the poor quality of the road and his inability to punish those involved in the road contract scam

What are your fears about the 2015 general election?
Well, I don’t want to join the prophets of doom who are multiplying in their numbers today. But let me however warn that we may be playing into the hands of such people if we refuse to play according to the rules of the game. We have to be tolerant and respect the wish of the people. The era of political killings and kidnapping should be over by now. We should love one another. It should not be a do or die affair. Nobody is above the country. The country will remain after the 2015 election. The unity of our fatherland cannot be compromised for any reason.

Where would go from here?
Well, I am quite confident that I will win the election in February 28. The Good Almighty will do it for us. I remain a journalist and I intend to return to the newsroom after the four years if elected by my people into the state Assembly. I want to encourage more journalists to join politics and to contribute their quotas in the political development in our land. It has not been easy having come from a background that see things differently.